HAVANA — Between 10% and 20% of Americans traveling to Cuba now are staying with an Airbnb host, according to an estimate by the company's founder and CEO, Brian Chesky.

“So it's been, we think, a very, very big success,” Chesky told reporters here, where he was a central business figure during President Obama’s historic visit this week.

Chesky said that almost one year after launching in Cuba, the country is still Airbnb’s fastest-growing market. There are 4,000 Cuban homes listed on Airbnb, out of about 2 million in 191 countries.  

“Cuba is the fastest-growing country on Airbnb ever in the history of our platform,” he said.

Chesky acknowledged that private home stays have long been a part of the Cuban tourism experience and estimated there are around 20,000 for rent in Havana. Airbnb, he said, has helped more Americans stay in private homes and engage with their Cuban hosts.

“I think what we represent is diplomacy from a person-to-person level,” he said. “One of our hosts said that they have a lot of misconceptions about Americans, but when they live with you for a year you start to think very, very differently about Americans."

Obama used the 34-year-old Airbnb founder as an example of the power of the Internet and entrepreneurship, neither of which is prevalent in communist Cuba, during a leadership conference at a Havana brewery where he conducted a question-and-answer session with local entrepreneurs.

Obama told the Cubans in attendance that Airbnb, founded eight years ago, was now worth $25 billion “with a 'B,'” the president said for emphasis.

“I use Brian as a ... good example of the power of the Internet,” Obama said. “Airbnb is using social media and the Internet in order to create a market that is safe for buyers and sellers that didn’t previously exist.”

Chesky concurred, and said that while the Cuba partnership has been “fairly seamless,” the “biggest challenge I think was Internet connectivity.”


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